A question that clients often ask when considering a development proposal is whether they should remove any trees before taking the proposal further?
Mature trees and established hedges on a site, which can be retained a part of a development, can provide instant maturity to the landscaping once the development is completed. This adds quantifiable value to the finished development, as well as a real sense of place, and continued benefits to wildlife.
Tree surveys establish both the type and condition of trees on a site, including the expected lifespan of the tree. Trees that are diseased or dying or that could propose a risk to property are usually proposed for removal anyway.
Most people are aware of the existence of Tree Preservation Orders (TPO); it is a criminal offence to undertake works to, fell, lop, or top a tree that is covered by a TPO – fines can be up to £20,000 in the Magistrates Court, or in serious cases unlimited in the Crown Court. TPO’s can cover individual trees, trees within an area, groups of trees, or whole woodlands. Fewer people are aware that if your development site is in a Conservation Area, then any tree with a trunk diameter over 75mm in diameter when measured at a height of 1.5m from ground level is automatically protected; so the Local Planning Authority must be given 6 weeks’ notice before any proposed works are undertaken to these trees.
Just because there are trees on any given site, it does not follow that no development can take place. No-dig methods can be used enabling the construction of paths and driveways. Screwed or piled foundations can enable the construction of buildings without harming the root zone. A recent episode of Grand Designs demonstrated this perfectly, with the site owners initially being told “no chance” by their Local Planning Authority. However, they persevered and obtained planning permission for a stunning house nestled amongst the trees using clever construction methods to ensure no harm to the tree roots. (Grand Designs - The Tree House)
Deciduous trees provide cooling shade from the heat of summer when the sun is high overhead. When the leaves drop in the autumn, the lower path of the sun can contribute welcome warmth through south-facing glazing all through the winter months.
Neighbours and other members of the public are understandably concerned about the effect of a development on trees that they value, however this concern is sometimes misplaced as an attempt to prevent development that could actually be undertaken successfully with the right approach.
Trees and hedges that are to be retained as part of a development are protected by “Root Protection Zones” (RPZ) which are marked out by 'heras' type fencing or sometimes with Chestnut Paling fences pushed straight into the soil. The RPZ stays in place for the duration of the development, and no vehicles or materials storage is allowed within the RPZ, to avoid compaction of the soil which could affect the health of the tree.
PDP have successfully gained planning permission for a holiday lodge development in TPO protected woodland; designing solutions for the layout as well as the access tracks and the drainage system, all of which minimised the impact on the tree roots.
New trees and hedges proposed as part of a landscaping scheme for a development can add to and enhance existing landscape features. New hedgerows connecting to existing hedges and woodlands provide “wildlife corridors” that allow the movement of small mammals and reptiles, as well as birds and even bats that will fly to feed and commute along the connections provided by this green infrastructure. The connectivity this provides can increase the range of habitats available to species that may previously have suffered from disconnection, increasing their chances of survival.
Even small new trees planted as part of a landscaping scheme can grow and mature surprisingly quickly. I planted a spinney of Silver Birch (Betula Pendula) on my farm just 3 years ago as bare-rooted whips (60 - 80cm) costing about 30p each, and gave them little in the way of ongoing maintenance. Two or three of them died, but the tallest of the rest are now over 6 feet tall with a stem as thick as my thumb. In another four or five years they will be twice this height with a trunk as thick as my arm.
The answer to the original question about trees therefore, is “No – talk to us first.”
Dominic Cooney - Planning Consultant at Planning & Design Practice